Sri Lanka issues and US:
Assessing LTTE rump strategy
Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, at a media briefing on
Wednesday in Colombo, presented his take of men and matters and events
during his most recent diplomatic endeavour in Geneva and Washington DC
to explain the ‘Sri Lanka side of the story’ as opposed to the ‘story’
given by the separatist Tiger activists within the Tamil Diaspora for
many years before and after the domestic demise of the Tamil Tigers in
Secretary Lalith Weeratunga
The interesting point Weeratunga made at this briefing was that an
‘Anti-Lanka (US) lawmaker couldn't spot Sri Lanka on the map’.
This is encouraging because Sri Lanka's public affairs, public
diplomacy and strategic communication should start at this point,
educating about this South Asian nation, its strategic location off the
southern tip of India (as John Kerry underscored in his Senate foreign
relations committee's December 2009 report), the tourist attraction, the
magnificent beaches in the East Coast, and of course world famous
‘Ceylon Tea’ slowly travelling to national political issues of Sri
The Americans too faced a similar situation: In 1979, Colombo
American Embassy's public affairs unit, the United States Information
Service, faced a similar situation when government and opposition
politicians initiated massive anti-American demonstrations outside its
The media went on a rampage denouncing the United States, and a
hostile atmosphere toward American presence in Sri Lanka was rapidly
building to the reports that the Massachusetts State Assembly
unanimously adopted a resolution in support of the TULF ‘Vadukkodai
Resolution’ declaring that the Tamil Minority had the right to their
‘homeland’, they have the right to self-determination and the supreme
right to secede from Sri Lanka to have their own independent/sovereign
state in the north and east of the country.
That the United States administration was supporting the division of
Sri Lanka witnessed by several TULF leaders including M. Sivasithabaram
at the gallery of the State House when the resolution was adopted.
The heat was increasing when the public affairs unit staff with two
(US) foreign service officers (FSOs) in attendance and chaired by the
deputy chief of mission (DCM) to figure out the strategy to defuse the
This writer who was a public affairs assistant was one of many in
that group when the issue arose what leverage the Massachusetts State
Assembly had with the (federal/central) American administration in
Washington headed by the president and the (US) Congress which is the
supreme lawmaking body of the nation.
It was construed that there was a utter lack of understanding of the
American system, three separate arms (executive, legislature and
judiciary) and that there were fifty autonomous states one of which was
Massachusetts and that the adoption of the ‘Eelam’ resolution did not at
all reflected the sentiments of either the White House (Executive) or
the Congress (bicameral lawmaking body) but an independent effort by the
Massachusetts legislature influenced by the separatist lobby in the US
and Sri Lanka.
The decision at that meeting was to start from scratch and explain
the American system to selected, leading Sri Lanka lawmakers
(troublemakers included), the media and one-on-one and group meetings
with editors/lead writers of all newspapers (which included B.A.
Siriwardene, editor of the Communist Party daily Aththa, write feature
articles for the media explaining the system. The exercise brought
dividends, and the anti-American sentiments were laid to rest and the
campaign accusing the United States fizzled out to the satisfaction of
the ambassador and Washington.
It is a futile attempt for Sri Lanka to engage in search of the
‘best’ Washington lobbying firm to pass the message Sri Lanka needs to
give to policymakers and lawmakers if those who are engaged in external
affairs and foreign policy unable to ‘educate’ the handlers of the
US$66,000 a month lobbying firm that not the entire minority (12%) Tamil
population in Sri Lanka rose in unison to destabilise Sri Lanka but a
handful of ‘adventurists’ led by Prabhaharan terrorised the entire
nation. (The Asian Tribune in a previous report highlighted the wrong
message the Thompson lobbying firm disseminated to the US lawmakers in a
LTTE rump strategy
One need not be a political scientist or a legal luminary to
comprehend, if one keenly peruses - with an investigative mind - the
events that unfolded since the military defeat of the separatist Tamil
Tiger or LTTE brutal and lethal force in May 2009 and the
internationalisation of Sri Lanka's domestic issues, the emergence of
Tiger leader Prabhaharan's overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing
helped set the terms of debate on Sri Lankan issues which culminated in
the Global Diplomatic Insurgency.
In fact, the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora very carefully selected
issues - issues that Sri Lanka at the outset considered to be too
insignificant - to put items on the country's agenda.
A careful assessment further reveals that the professional arm of the
Tamil Diaspora - who emotionally reacted to the demise of the Tamil
Tiger leadership - was so focused that they became a source of
information and analysis that provided a great deal of information and
data to the United States Department of State officials, Members of the
Congress, and their supportive staff, and non-governmental organisations
largely shaping their general perspective.
President's secretary Weeratunga himself said at the media briefing
in Colombo that one congressmen get at least fifty anti-Sri Lanka
messages while not a single message advocating Sri Lanka's official
position and related issues.
This is exactly that has bothered, Sri Lanka Consul General-designee
for the Western States in the United States, Malraj de Silva that no
coordinated efforts have been made to inform lawmakers and policymakers
of the true story of Sri Lanka, the 30-year trajectory of the Tamil
Tigers, the role played by the present lobbyists within the Tamil
Diaspora during the time the Tamil Tigers were on rampage in Sri Lanka
providing them ‘material support’, giving them expert advice, raising
funds and encouraging the procurement of lethal weapons all of which
were in violation of US Federal Laws.
When early signs were emerging the transfer of Prabhaharan's lifelong
dream of a separate Tamil nation in the north-east part of Sri Lanka to
this overseas collateral movement - franchised in Washington, New York,
Los Angeles, London, Paris, Bonn, Canberra, Ottawa etc - a State
Department official whom I knew during my days in that ‘encampment’
noted that their emotions were running riot because the civil war in Sri
Lanka involved their kith and kin and that emotion and rage was now
slowly and steadily being transformed into political action.
Sri Lanka failed to understand this sentiments, and that sentiment
has gone a long way to what's going on at present: The uncomfortable
road to Geneva to face the US-sponsored resolution in March.
Most of the information, data and analyses provided to global forums
were largely distortions, misinterpretations, exaggerations of Sri Lanka
issues leading to lies, half-truths, diabolical falsehood that went
unchallenged in the first 48 months since the annihilation of the LTTE
by those who handled foreign affairs for Sri Lanka. Or, the handlers
thought less of the capability of the principal players of Prabhaharan's
global collateral arm.
Separatist Tamil Diaspora global collateral arm which consisted of
franchises in Western cities was fully aware that when issues promoted
by it are priorities, and are in line with the American administration,
the Diaspora activists have a greater influence in the US policy
All the issues in the aftermath of Prabhaharan's death centered on
Tamil grievances and rights, a perspective well developed within the
portals of the American diplomatic mission in Colombo in the eighties
and the first half of the nineties to consolidate policy planks to which
this writer had up-close and personal knowledge.
The pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora commenced the Eelam ‘War’ V with
this advantage to which the policymakers in Sri Lanka had only a scant
A careful study shows that the major reason for a considerable
success of the separatist/secessionist activists within the Tamil
Diaspora in later years which reflected in anti-Sri Lanka resolutions in
both chambers of the US Congress, a series of letters initiated by
influential Members of the Congress to Obama administration officials
highlighting alleged violation of international humanitarian law (IHL)
and international human rights law (IHRL), the pugnacious stance the
global rights groups adopted and anti-Sri Lanka fervour emanated in
House and Senate hearings in Washington is nothing but the Diaspora
activist understanding of American democratic values and (US) strategic
Another factor of the durability of Tamil Diaspora-American discourse
in the U.S and their success in resuscitating and appropriating ethnic
identities is greatly influenced by the US administration's view of the
administration in Sri Lanka.
Whether Sri Lanka inadvertently provided fodder to the ‘collateral
wing and to its franchises’ to strengthen this discourse is another
Thomas Ambrosio, Assistant Professor of Political Science, North
Dakota State University in a submission on the issue of diaspora
communities and their influence on US foreign policy stated that when
one seeks to understand diaspora groups and their influence on US
foreign policy, the question is not should ethnic groups influence
foreign policy but how they affect foreign policy, what are their goals
and why do they mobilise.
Had those questions been addressed one would have, to some extent,
understood the strategy and maneuvering of Prabhaharan's (overseas and
US) collateral political and diplomatic wing and its franchises to
initially shape Sri Lanka's foreign policy approaches to the emerging
issues since May 2009.
Our most recent experience has clearly shown that the Tamil Diaspora
lobby sought to influence US policy in three ways.
The collateral political and diplomatic wing of the now demised LTTE
used these three strategies seeking influence in the State Department
and both arms of the Congress. They used those in other European
First, by framing the issues "that help set the terms of debate" or
"put items on the country's agenda."
Second, they are a source of information and analysis that provide a
great deal of information to members of Congress and serve as a resource
for other branches of government and non-governmental organisations, and
shaping general perspectives. Mr. Weeratunga is now well aware of this
and to the utter disappointment of Mr. Malraj de Silva)
Finally, unceasing lobbying campaigns providing policy oversight.
These are all diplomatic overtures Sri Lanka's foreign relations/policy
arm should have perused.
It is the failure in this vital areas that led to the out sourcing of
foreign policy/relation overtures to lobbying firms? And we recently
found how illiterate one lobbying firm was about Sri Lanka.
There is no mistake in using lobbying firms for certain limited
objectives such as the manner in which Dr. Jeyerajah-led US Tamil
Political Action Council used the Washington lobbying firm KSCW Inc. to
successfully table an anti-Sri Lanka Resolution 177 in the US House with
53 signatures which included influential and prominent House Members in
2012 vastly enhancing the 'voice' of the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora.
The records showed that the USTPAC invested US$30,000 to get three
reports on 'specific issues' besides successfully tabling the H.RES.
A close scrutiny shows that the Tamil Diaspora ability to advance the
message was their understanding that the message resonated with the
American values and ideals. When issues were promoted by the collateral
political/diplomatic wing of the LTTE they strategically placed them in
line with the US administration thus having the greatest influence in
A major reason for some success of the activists of the Tamil
Diaspora in affecting US diplomacy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka government is the
nature of American politics and especially the power of the individual
Congress member--which makes a unitary foreign policy unlikely.
The handlers of the overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing of
Tamil Tigers and its franchises have well understood this scenario when
engaging in lobbying activities.
Certainly, in recent years the US government is more disposed to hear
concerns of ethnic Americans who endeavour to influence American
diplomacy toward their country of origin if and when they promote
democracy and human rights.
These current professional activists within the Tamil Diaspora were
least interested when the Tamil Tiger leader Prabhaharan and his
fighting and political cadres were violating the basic human rights of
the Tamil people who were hostages in the north-east region of Sri
Their profile is conveniently buried with their rhetoric of human
rights and civilian deaths during the final stages of the war, and there
is no one within the Sri Lankan polity to cogently present their past to
tarnish their image in the face of the American policymakers and
The US-based Tamil Diaspora manoeuvred well within these American
Then the question arose as to how the American polity looked at the
US-based Tamil Diaspora claim that it represents broader public interest
of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
The representatives of the Tamil Diaspora who envisaged to engage in
advocacy and diplomacy since the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009
obviously faced issues of representation and legitimacy. The American
polity and its decision makers faced when confronted with Tamil Diaspora
advocates "Who are these people and whom do they represent?"
The strategy and manoeuvre the activists of the Tamil Diaspora
adopted to get the ear of the American polity was to be seen as the sole
advocate of Sri Lanka Tamil issues limiting Sri Lanka authorities'
ability to speak for them (or own them) and eventually hold the hegemony
on Sri Lanka Tamil issues. The pro-separatist advocates of the Tamil
Diaspora in the United States benefited largely from the perspectives
(or mind-set) the American foreign service officers (FSOs) developed
between early eighties through mid-nineties within the portals of their
Colombo Mission on issues that confronted the 12% ethnic Tamil
minorities in Sri Lanka.
The advocates of the Tamil Diaspora which espouses an independent and
separate nation in the north and east part of that country has well
understood how the American system works to cater to the sentiments of
the State Department officials and Obama White House advisors who have
entertained that Sri Lanka has serious human rights, governance and rule
of law issues that warrant a drastic change in its body politic. The
State Department envisages transparency and accountability on the one
hand influenced by many factors one of which is its close rapport with
the activists (whose profile and credentials during the Prabhaharan era
are yet to be disclosed to US side) within the Tamil Diaspora to which
the State Department has tied the 'credibility' tag, and reconciliation
among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, one of the not so serious agenda items
pushed by the activists of the Tamil Diaspora when in conversations with
American officials in Washington as its final objective was an
independent and separate state.
The foreign policy handlers in Sri Lanka have let the advocates of
the Tamil Diaspora dominate an issue that should have been within the
perimeters of Sri Lanka's domestic agenda, allowed Prabhaharan's
overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing and its worldwide
franchises to influence US policy oversights that has led the American
administration to place policy directives before the Government of Sri
Lanka (often such policy statements giving the impression that
Ambassador Michele Sison acts like the 'Governor' of Sri Lanka) and
allow the Tamil Diaspora advocates to successfully make the American
officials understand "Who are these people and whom do they represent?"
It is this scenario that one could sense the frustration that has
developed in defence secretary Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa in penetrating
the area of foreign policy cum domestic issues at a time the External
Affairs Ministry has exhibited its inability to develop a strategy to
break the unsavoury 'discourse' between the Tamil proponents of a
separate state in Sri Lanka and the American polity (not forgetting the
It is also under these circumstances that Colonel Rajapaksa airs his
frustration though many pronouncements touching foreign policy, foreign
relations and connected domestic issues such as devolution of political
and administrative power to peripheral provinces.
Ambassador Sison's not so distant statement that Sri Lanka may face a
situation "Beyond" the UNHRC prompted defence secretary to feel that she
is acting like the 'Governor' of Sri Lanka.
The question that comes to one's mind to ask handlers of Sri Lanka's
foreign affairs and relations is: "Who are these people and whom do they
represent?". "What are their profiles and credentials when working with
a terrorist organisation like the Tamil Tigers?". "Will Sri Lanka very
cogently present the credentials and profiles of persons with whom the
US and EU are dealing with?
Courtesy: Asian Tribune